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How vacation scheme applicants can answer Allen & Overy’s online application form questions

This question may initially seem formulaic, but your answer is actually crucial to Allen & Overy’s recruiters.

Allen & Overy offers a summer vacation scheme (for penultimate year students) and a winter vacation scheme (for finalists and graduates). As well as asking you for details of your education, work experience and languages, the firm asks a series of competency and motivational questions – most of which mirror the questions asked of training contract applicants: 

What are your main interests, activities and pastimes? Please describe any related positions of responsibility you have held from school/university and onwards.

Word limit: 250 words

How to approach: This question may initially seem formulaic, but your answer is actually crucial to Allen & Overy’s recruiters. By being able to show positions of leadership, relationship-building and thoroughness in your work or hobbies, you’ll cast an image of a reliable and diligent worker who has a pro-active nature, making the most of the opportunities available to you.

Volunteering and memberships of societies and teams are useful here. Allen & Overy is a City law firm so its lawyers need to know how businesses function; if there was any kind of commercial element to your function within a team or society, highlight that in no uncertain terms. Involvement with your university law society will be looked upon favourably, but so will positions that hold similar responsibility in other groups. However, if you aren’t involved with your law society you should ideally be able to show a demonstrable interest in law through some other avenue.

Please describe a recent major challenge that you have faced and specifically how you responded as an individual.

Word limit: 250 words

How to approach: This classic competency-based question is an opportunity to showcase the skills necessary to be an Allen & Overy lawyer. Consider what a ‘major’ challenge is – balancing your degree with your extracurricular activities isn't enough. Think about times when something has happened that has altered your original plans, perhaps for a group project as part of your degree, weather causing complications for an event you’re running, or even an injury crisis hitting your sports team. Each of these examples poses the question, ‘How do you work around this and still achieve your goals?’. Focus on what you did in the answer and the skills you used – too much use of the word ‘we’ and your part in that achievement will seem watered down.

Avoid waffle. Our advice is to structure your answer to a competency-based question using the STAR technique – describe the situation, the task required, the action you took and the result of your action.

Consider including the following in your answer:

Communication, teamwork, interpersonal skills and commercial awareness are key competencies required of an Allen & Overy lawyer. Using the STAR technique, it's possible to answer this question in a way that shows you have these skills. Here's a hypothetical example of how to do this:

  1. Situation: working in a call centre providing customer support for a new piece of software that was experiencing problems during start-up.
  2. Task: stem negative feedback from customers frustrated with their recent purchase.
  3. Action: stayed late to confer with technical support and devise a short-term work-around while they worked on the root of the problem.
  4. Result: the work-around meant that I could meet the needs of my customers at point-of-contact rather than just logging the call and apologising. Our customer satisfaction statistics reflected this and my team received a commendation for taking the initiative under pressure.

Why are you interested in pursuing a career in international commercial law?

Word limit: 250 words

How to approach: The firm is testing your motivation here. You need to be able to appreciate the opportunities that international commercial law presents for your career as a whole, but avoid mentioning money – magic circle trainees have among the best graduate starting salaries, but graduate recruiters realise that people motivated by money alone rarely last the distance. You need to have a head for business and a passion for client service to be succesful at a City law firm. This question is more about the depth of research you’ve done on how to achieve your longer term goals. If you've done any paralegal work, either in the City or at a high-street firm, or worked at a legal walk-in centre or at the Citizen's Advice Bureau, explain how these experiences developed your commitment to a career in commercial (as opposed to family or criminal) law. Equally, you might feel wary of mentioning work experience with the firm's competitors, but there's no reason to be – it shows you're committed to a career in commercial law. If the experience was at a law firm with different expertise than Allen & Overy – say, personal injury law – then you should explain why you have decided not to pursue that route; remember that work experience can be a useful tool for ruling a career path out as well as in.

Why are you applying to Allen & Overy?

Word limit: 250 words

How to approach: This answer follows on neatly from the previous question – you’ll already have identified why international commercial law is appealing, so now you have to find the links between those factors and Allen & Overy’s summer vacation scheme. What does this scheme offer in terms of personal development that others do not? Why does Allen & Overy fit the bill ahead of any of their competitors? If you've been to an Allen & Overy open day or campus presentation, mention it in your answer to this question and explain what it was about the experience you found inspirational. To support your case for practising law specifically at Allen & Overy, talk about the firm’s recent cases and deals, or any strategic decisions it has made recently – such as being the first magic circle firm to open an office in South Africa . Following the firm on social media is a useful way of keeping abreast of their transactions and clients. Reading quality daily news and the legal press will also improve your commercial awareness of the firm.  

Please write about a current issue or news article that has interested you and how you feel that subject matter is relevant to Allen & Overy LLP.

Word limit: 250 words

How to approach: Remember that this does not have to be a news story on Allen & Overy, just something that would interest the firm in some way. The news story may cause problems for the firm (or one of its clients) or clear benefits – either is fine as long as you clearly explain what the consequences of the news are and how they’ll affect Allen & Overy’s business. Is it simply something the firm needs to keep an eye on for potential future developments, or is this something Allen & Overy needs to be aware of and act upon right now? As with all your answers, be prepared to elaborate on this at interview. 

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